The Prophet Nahum
1. Author and Time of Writing
We only know little of Nahum - the 7 th of the twelve Minor Prophets. His name means “comforted”. Not even the exact place where he came from is known. Some researchers assume it to be the village Alkush at the river Tigris near Mossul and others suppose a place in Galilee near Capernaum. Others again think it to be Capernaum itself ( Kephar-Nahum = village of Nahum) and finally some believe it to be a village in Judea as the Fathers of the church also testify it. The facts that the kingdom of the 10 tribes (in which Galilee lies) was already in Assyrian captivity at Nahum’s time and that Nahum directly speaks to the kingdom of Judah (chap. 1:15b) would speak for the last possibility.
Exact or approximate indications of time are totally missing in Nahum’s book. Chapter 3:8-10 however mentions the destruction of No of Amon ( Thebes) capital of Upper Egypt. This took place in 663 BC by Assurbanipal king of Assyrians. Nineveh was destroyed by the Medes under Cyaxares and by the Babylonians under Nabopolassar in 612 BC. Nahum’s time of labour would lie between these two events.
Nahum is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Romans 10:15 however reads “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” This verse renders the very similar expressions of Is. 52:7 and Nahum 1:15 and links them together.
2. Purpose of Writing
The subject of Nahum’s prophecy is the judgment over Nineveh. Jonah had to prophecy over Nineveh as well but he lived around 150 years earlier. The mercy of Jehovah is triumphing in the book of Jonah whereas Nahum only announces the just fury of God and the unalterable destruction of this godless city. Nahum’s view is only focused on this enemy of God’s people; it is striking that the sins of Israel and Judah are not mentioned at all. Yes, while the holy and just fury of God is announced to the enemies the people of God receive comforting words (chap. 1:12-15). In chapter 1 (which is similar to a psalm) we see God as jealous and revenging in His majesty. The two following chapters prophesy exactly the fall and destruction of Nineveh.
As most of the prophetical books the book of Nahum is written in poetry in the Hebrew as well. This poesy however is lost by translation. Some scientists think to find the acrostic style in chap. 1:2-8 as the verses partially begin following the Hebrew alphabet, but other scientists doubt this. In general the powerful and rich in pictures language is to emphasize for which Nahum is called a “classical author of Hebrew Poetry” (compare with “Hebrew Poetry”, Book of Psalms, 3. Peculiarities).
Nineveh and Assyria
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. Her founder was Nimrod who lived shortly after the flood (Gen. 10:8-12). There was rivalry between Assyria and Babylon from the very beginning. Babylon is the picture of worldly might in a religious garment. Assyria pictures the haughty, cruel and high-handed world, which knows nothing but her own importance.
Nineveh reached great importance around 900 BC. Shalmaneser III of Assyria defeated king Ahab of Israel in the battle of Carcar around the year 843 BC. According to an inscription on the “black obelisk” of Shalmaneser king Jehu shall have been tributary to him too. The Scriptures however do not mention this. Jonah was sent to Nineveh around the year 800 BC to turn them off their cruel ways. In 734 BC the two and a half tribes Reuben, Gad and Manasseh who settled on the eastern side of Jordan were deported by Tiglath-pileser and in 722 BC the whole northern kingdom of Israel was brought into Assyrian captivity under Shalmaneser and Sargon (2 Kings 17). Shanherib attacked the kingdom of Judah at king Hezekiah’s time around 701 BC but had to return without having achieved his object. After Assurbanipal’s death (who had conquered Thebes in Egypt in 663 BC) the might of Assyria and Nineveh declined noticeably. Finally the great city was conquered and totally destroyed in 612 BC by the Medes under Cyaxares and the Babylonians under Nabopolassar. It was only in the 19 th century that Nineveh’s ruins were excavated with their mighty buildings, sculptures and Assurbanipal’s library with over 20,000 clay plates.
God used Assyria as rod of his anger to punish His guilty people of Israel but finally this rod had to be punished itself for its haughtiness and its malice (see Is. 10:5-19; Ez. 31:3-17; Zeph. 2:13). Some references over Assyria are surely still to be fulfilled. The king of Assyria will come towards Israel and Egypt again in a day to come and will find his end in Palestine. It is very striking though that according to Is. 19:23-25 Assyria will share in the blessings of the Millennium with Egypt and Israel yet without its destroyed godless capital Nineveh.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Nahum 1: Judgment Is Announced: God is Righteous
II. Nahum 2: Judgment Is Executed: Nineveh is Destroyed
III. Nahum 3: Judgment’s Reason: Nineveh’s Guilt